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September 12, 2015

He tilted his head to the side, wide eyed and listening, as we asked him to speak. He let out a sharp bark – the same bark I begged to hear ten years ago when he was just a puppy, when he first came into our lives, eager to hear if his voice matched his stature – and we smiled through tears because this time would be the last time and we didn’t have the heart to let him know.

It was just a week ago we realized he wasn’t putting pressure on his hind leg and a visit to the vet confirmed our fear that it was broken. We discussed several options deciding on the least invasive resolution first given his size and age and so he was sedated then fit for a cast. We were hopeful until we realized he was essentially on bed rest… unwillingly. We took him in for another cast. Then another one a few days after that until we noticed he somehow managed to wiggle part of his leg out of the enclosure.

The emergency vet clinic we rushed him to advised us it would be best to remove the cast entirely and, there in the cold exam room late on a Saturday night, we were told it might be best to remove his leg, too. Surgery wasn’t guaranteed because of his size plus recovery would put him in a cast, which was proven ineffective given our last attempt and so it seemed amputation was the only solution and we were advised to give it a day outside the cast then visit his regular vet to schedule the appointment.

We took him home with us that night, medicated and fragile, and held him tight desperate to make it right… to fix what we knew we ultimately couldn’t. Upon the next visit with his vet, we discovered his other hind leg was now troubling him. Options? Remove the broken leg and operate on the remaining one leaving him in a cast for months… unable to walk until it healed, if it healed. In those months of healing, his kyphosis (curvature of the spine) would worsen probably prohibiting him from walking at all ever again. 

Then the “quality of life” conversation reappeared, dark and heavy and ugly like the truth.

Our stomachs dropped. Our eyes watered. Our hearts ached.

We left the office with our once three pound dog now weighing under two pounds tucked in the bend of my wife’s arm knowing we would be returning before sunset only to leave again without him. We went home, we made him comfortable, we gave him all the things we’d denied him in effort to prolong his life over the years. He ate bacon because he’d always begged for our crumbs and drank coffee because if we ever left a mug unattended, we’d ultimately find him face first in it. He slept in our arms and licked our fingers. He stared at us through a haze of pain medicine and we stared back broken hearted.

He rode with us to pick Madison up from preschool and once we returned to the safety of our walls, we let her hold him for the last time, the little dog she’s never known life without, and she told him goodbye. We painted his paw and stamped a print on a thick sheet of cardstock to frame with his collar, a green ferret collar with a bell on it because dog collars weren’t made small enough for him.

Madison asked to draw him a picture and we quickly obliged handing her a sheet all her own. She drew a dog and a large plant and between them she drew herself, arms outstretched hugging them both. The only reference point at age four she has of something dying is the fiddle leaf fig tree we can’t seem to keep alive.

We left Madison with her grandmother and we slowly made our way back to the vet. A room was reserved for us and we sat there… just the three of us, for the last time. Many don’t understand how an animal can become such an important part of one’s life. Many don’t understand how pets are able to burrow themselves in a corner of your heart; a corner many don’t realize even exists, then they manage to expand it. They show us the meaning of unconditional love and they become part of our family, part of us.

He was given a sedative and we were left alone again to wait as he fell asleep. I sat in the floor holding him in the palms of my hands, wrapped in the green blanket he’s had for as long as I can remember and we cried an ocean of tears, we sat huddled together in a pool of defeat and sorrow and pain, our little family with the little baby we had for six years until our other baby came along. Allison kissed his tiny face and I rubbed the gray spot of fur under his chin. As he closed his eyes, we reminded him of all the laughs he gave us and all the joy he provided in hopes our last words would provide him with sweet dreams.

We mentioned the laps he used to run in his early years, his short strides defying the odds of speed, a tiny black ball of fur in a blur passing by only to land in our lap with a quick thump when he gave in to catch his breath. We mentioned how he always managed to find his way into a warm basket of laundry when we pulled it from the dryer, surprising us belly up and all four feet in the air when we chose a towel to fold. We mentioned how patient and gentle and understanding he was when we brought Madison home and we thanked him for being the best dog we ever could have asked for.

We reminded him of the all the times he hid in Allison’s bag, incognito at the bookstore or the grocery store, a privilege only his size would permit. We reminded him of all the nicknames he was given and how he’d answer to every single one regardless of how ridiculous they sounded. We reminded him of the early mornings when he would climb to the head of our bed and rest his head on my pillow, puppy breath in my face and close his eyes for five more minutes of sleep. We reminded him of all the stories Madison attempted to read him when she was learning to talk, practicing her words and sounding out syllables in the floor of her bedroom with him by her side.

Despite his size, his heart was always the largest thing about him. He lived to love and as we sat there holding him close, the vet administering a final dose, we wanted him to know we loved him, too. We still do. Someone said to me pets are a chapter of our lives, but to them… to them we’re the whole book. I never thought of it that way, but it’s true.

His bed still sits in our floor with an indention of where he last rested, what should be an invitation for him to return but instead it's a reminder he won’t. His food and water bowls are still sitting where he left them, half full with a few pieces scattered at their base. We know we have to empty them and pack them away, but we’re just not sure when… or how… to do it.

Last night, I woke at 2am to the sound of his bark. There was a shift in the bed and Allison rolled over to ask if I was awake; we didn’t acknowledge it but I know she heard it, too. He’s a part of us, of our home, of our story. As annoying as those constant barks were over the last ten years, knowing I’ll still hear them echoing through our walls provides an unexpected comfort, a sense he’s still with us in some way, evidence life really is all about the little things.

Speak, boy. Keep speaking.

Rest in Peace, Benson.
January 21, 2005 – September 8, 2015

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